By now, we have all heard of the three kids in Mexico who were recently "possessed" while playing with a Ouija board. It has yet to be determined if this was a clever marketing stunt for an upcoming film or just some kids messing about, but either way, it really got me thinking about the Ouija board.
Raised in a house where it is the norm to see and experience ghosts, I was warned against the use of the Ouija board. Imagine my shock and terror when one was brought out at a slumber party the same way a deck of Uno cards is brought out. I was absolutely gobsmacked to see this "tool of the devil" packaged in a Parker Brothers box just like any other board game. Obviously, I was a party pooper and adamantly refused to participate in such a "game".
Also known as a spirit board or talking board, it is a flat board with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words "yes", "no", "hello" and "goodbye". There may also be various symbols and graphics. As participants place their fingers lightly on the planchette ( a teardrop shaped device with a small window) , it will begin to move and spell out the spirit's intended message.
So, where did this devil's tool/party game come from? The original creator of the Ouija board remains unknown and many people disagree about the exact time of origin, but one of the first mentions of the automatic, or planchette, writing method used by the Ouija board is found in China around 1100 AD. In historical documents of the Song Dynasty, the use of planchette writing is mentioned and there are, allegedly, entire scriptures of the Daozang that are the result of planchette writing.
In 1848 America the Fox sisters of New York became famous for claiming to have received messages from spirits who would rap on the walls in answer to questions. Spiritualism was a bit of an obsession at this time and the belief that the dead are able to communicate with the living offered solace and also lived happily alongside Christian dogma. People would hold a seance on Saturday night and feel no guilt or remorse over it when attending church Sunday morning.
In a time when the average lifespan was less than fifty, women died in childbirth, children suffered various diseases and men died in war, the Ouija board became an acceptable activity to contact spirits.
On May 28, 1890, businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard decided to patent a planchette that was sold with a board on which the alphabet was printed and, thus, had invented the first Ouija board. An employee of Kennard, William Fuld took over the talking board production and started producing his own boards under the name "Ouija", claiming that he learned the name Ouija by using the board itself and learning that it was an Egyptian word meaning good luck. Fuld is credited with popularizing the widely accepted etymology that the name comes from a combination of the French and German words for "yes". Eventually, Fuld began claiming that he had invented the Ouija board and sued any companies that tried to use the name. In 1966, Fuld's estate sold the business to Parker Brothers (which was ultimately sold to Hasbro) and this is how it became the board game that many kids know it as today.
Often criticized by scientists as a hoax, various studies of the Ouija board have been produced. By recreating the the effects of the Ouija board in the lab, under laboratory conditions, subjects were shown to be moving the planchette involuntarily. Some critics have also declared that the statements written out by the planchette are simply a reflection of what the operator is thinking about.
Some of the Ouija board phenomena seen at seances are chalked up to a dissociative state; a state in which consciousness is somehow divided or cut off from some aspects of the individual's normal cognitive, motor or sensory functions.
The Ouija board has long been the subject of less than flattering stories. Many tales of demon possession and a myriad of superstitions surrounding the board have painted it as the aforementioned tool of the devil. Some of these superstitions are pretty interesting and can be found at The Museum of Talking Boards. For a lot of us, the Ouija board was presented as something evil and all horror movies have managed to back this theory up. Seriously, nothing good happens after a Ouija board makes an appearance in a horror movie. Nothing.
So, while we are all free to practice and believe any little thing our hearts' desire, I am going to maintain my scaredy cat stance and stay as far away from them as possible because I truly believe that, much like this scene from Paranormal Activity, the Ouija board is not to be trifled with.